My Books, My Rules

It’s about 16 years since I wrote my first published novel, The Broken Token – it took a while to find someone willing to put it out. But for some reason, I’ve remembered that I created a set of rules for myself back then. I’d read plenty of crime novels and I was tired of the loner, heavy drinking detective, and so much that went along with it.

My main character would be married. Most are. Since then, only one of my protagonists hasn’t been married on quickly on the way there. I wasn’t trying to be different, simply to reflect life. And most have had happy marriages, with or without children.

I decided that anyone could die. Again, it was simply life. People die at all ages, for all manner of reasons. Within the business of enforcing the law, there’s always a greater chance of violence. I kept that rule throughout the Richard Nottingham series (and one death brought quite a few variations on “you bastard”). I ditched it for the Tom Harper books, because conditions and life expectancy had improved in a century and a half, although things do happen, like Billy Reed’s heart attack. And the main characters have stayed alive (so far) in the Simon Westow series. I’ll say nothing else about that.

The characters have lives outside their work. We all do, and they’re often more important than anything else. They round out the people, make them human and three-dimensional. Know that and you know them and you’re even more willing to follow them.

The reader has to feel they’ve walked through the place, and experienced that time. All the sighs and smalls and noise. It needs to be alive to be convincing. It’s one reason that most of my books are set in Leeds. It’s the place I feel, that I know through the soles of my shoes. I can sense the different periods of history, like seeing through different layers of time. I can touch them, taste them. All I do is write down that move in my head, including the descriptions of the where and when.

History is important, but it’s more the local than national effect. As we grow into the 20th century, that changes, but as a rule of thumb it’s true. People cared about what affected them directly. How they lived, conditions of houses, money in their pocket. A writer needs to know their history. But to be convincing, it needs to be worn lightly. Woven into the fabric of the story so it falls gently on a reader’s shoulders. No information dumps.

Create people that readers care about. Even the second character need three dimensions. Cardboard doesn’t work.

I still try to live by all of those. But – and it’s a very big but – there also has to be a good, powerful story that will engage people. That’s at the heart of it all.

I try, but it’s only you, the readers, who can say if I succeed.

To finish, please indulge me while I ask a favour. My most recent novel, The Blood Covenant, has had the types of reviews a writer can only dream about. The one coming in September, which isn’t far away now, is very good, the 10th Tom Harper novel. Yes, I’d love for you to buy them. Ideally from an independent bookshop, but outlets like Speedy Hen and the Hive in the UK have excellent prices and free postage. Like everyone, though, I know we’re all squeezed and books are a luxury. If you can’t afford it, please order from your local library. If they don’t have it, they will get it in. If every library system in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and NZ ordered copies of both, it would be handsome sales figures. And it would be on the shelves for everyone to read.

Even if you can afford, please consider the library request – that way it’s there for others.

Thank you.

If you have some time to spare – quite a bit of time – I was interviewed for the Working House podcast. You can listen here.

2 thoughts on “My Books, My Rules

  1. barbara

    Have left notes for our library with regard to your books.
    I really enjoyed The Molten City which I borrowed from the library. I went there today and all the Tom Harper books were “out” – so even here in Australia, a long way from Leeds, your books are popular choices.

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